Marcus Rashford has called on the government to reverse a decision not to provide free school meal vouchers during the summer, saying that “the system isn’t built for families like mine to succeed”.
The Manchester United and England forward has raised about £20m to supply three million meals to vulnerable people while working with charity FareShare UK during the coronavirus lockdown.
Campaigners have threatened to bring legal action against the government for not extending the food voucher scheme into the summer holidays.
In an emotional open letter to MPs drawing on his own experiences of relying on free school meals and food banks growing up, Rashford said his story is “all too familiar for families in England”.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast about the letter, Rashford, 22, said: “It’s written from the heart and it’s about how my life was at the moment – the letter is to open up and let people understand the impact on families and to know I’ve done the right thing.
“What families are going through now, I’ve once had to go through that – and it’s very difficult to find a way out. It’s very important for me to help people who are struggling. Whether the outcome changes or doesn’t change – that’s why I wrote it.”
‘This is not about politics, it’s about humanity’
In the letter, Rashford wrote: “My mum worked full-time, earning the minimum wage, to make sure we always had a good evening meal on the table, but it was not enough.
“The system was not built for families like mine to succeed, regardless of how hard my mum worked.”
Rashford added his plea for the government to “make the U-turn and make protecting the lives of some of our most vulnerable a top priority” was “not about politics” but about “humanity”.
He added that it was about “looking at ourselves in the mirror and feeling like we did everything we could to protect those who can’t, for whatever reason or circumstance, protect themselves”.
The Department for Education confirmed the scheme would not run during summer holidays: “As schools open more widely, and their kitchens reopen, we expect schools to make food parcels available for collection or delivery for any children that are eligible for free school meals who are not yet able to return to school. Where this is not possible, schools can continue to offer vouchers to eligible pupils.
The spokesperson also pointed to the new £63m local authority welfare assistance scheme to support the most vulnerable families, and its Holiday Activities and Food programme, which offers activities and free meals in the summer holidays.
Families claiming free school meals have been issued with either an electronic voucher or gift card – worth £15 per child, per week – to spend at supermarkets, while schools have been closed.
Rashford wrote: “Political affiliations aside, can we not all agree that no child should be going to be hungry?”
The United youth-team graduate, who is one of five children, added: “As a black man from a low-income family in Wythenshawe, Manchester, I could have been just another statistic.
“Instead, due to the selfless actions of my mum, my family, my neighbours, and my coaches, the only stats I’m associated with are goals, appearances and caps.
“I would be doing myself, my family and my community an injustice if I didn’t stand here today with my voice and my platform and ask you for help.”
Around 1.3m children in England are eligible for free school meals and a survey by the Food Foundation in May said that more than 200,000 children have had to skip meals because their family could not access enough food during lockdown.
“Ten years ago, I would have been one of those children, and you would never have heard my voice and seen my determination to become part of the solution,” said Rashford.
“Food poverty in England is a pandemic that could span generations if we don’t course correct now.”
Rashford stated that the government’s Universal Credit benefit system “is simply not a short-term solution” to the issue of food poverty, because “I am fully aware that the majority of families applying are experiencing five-week delays”.
He is concerned that child poverty is “only going to get worse” when the government’s furlough scheme ends.
Rashford added that with many children still not able to return to school and have more of their nutritional needs met “we’re encouraging this cycle of hardship to continue”.